What is so special about strengthening ourselves in our Ahavas Yisroel during the period of Sefiras HaOmer? I anyhow try not to insult others or cause them pain. I want to understand why Ahavas Yisroel is such a fundamental Torah concept on which all Avodas Hashem depends.
1] Ahavas Yisroel does not only mean to act ethically by not insulting or hurting anyone. By the other nations we also find rules of proper social behavior.
Ahavas Yisroel is an inner feeling in the heart, on which basic Emunah in Hashem depends. When a person loves Hashem he automatically loves His children, and focuses on the good within them. He believes in every Jew as someone who has a part in crowning Hashem as King in this world with the little bit of good that they do, since it is impossible that somebody has never done some good in his life.
As you accustom yourself to thinking this way about every Jew that you see, i.e., when you arrive at Shul, you take a look at the congregants and say to yourself: ”Here are Hashem’s people … I’m part of this holy nation …” . And with this, you will start to feel a strong fervor in Avodas Hashem. Your thoughts will be elevated to concentrating more on Hashem’s Glory, and you will realize throughout all your prayers and Torah study that you are a part of the nation which crowns Hashem. You will stop constantly thinking just about yourself, how much you have accomplished, how successful you have been and how the Tefilah went, etc.
This is why in the “L’sheim Yichud” prayer which we recite before performing Mitzvos we say: “… in the name of all of Klal Yisroel” since we are connecting with the Avodas Hashem of all of Klal Yisroel. This is also why the Ariza”l says that before davening we should accept upon ourselves the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel, and to love every Jew as one loves himself.
2] The Ariza”l also teaches that especially friends who engage in Torah study together must stick together as if they are each limbs of one body. If one member of the group is in pain, the entire group should pray for him.
The Yetzer Hara tries very hard to cause us to forget how essential the gathering of friends together is to Avodas Hashem. It’s important to get together to truly encourage and strengthen each other in Avodas Hashem, and to listen to what the other friends have to say. Not only without any arguing, but they should also have a real desire to join together, as brothers of the same father.
Someone who has not participated in such a gathering can not understand, but the sweetness of Avodas Hashem is most felt between good friends who through their friendliness are able to strengthen and encourage one another, worry for each other, and provide help for one another to the best of their ability. On Shabbos they find time to gather and sing Zemiros together. But when there is no love and in its place there is division, it is impossible to gather new strength and energy in Avodas Hashem, as Chazal say: ‘Either a friend or death.’
We must again emphasize that division isn’t necessarily bickering. It is being unable to sit together and speak pleasantly between friends, which causes a loss of vigor in Avodas Hashem. This is because the nature of a person is to be drawn after the world, and this world is a place which screams out nature, pain and suffering, and a concealment of all things divine and holy etc. But when a person knows that he’s connected with friends that are strengthening themselves together to live a life of Emunah, a life of rejoicing in Hashem, etc., he then has the emotional strength to confront the world. Then, even when he isn’t able to get together with his friends, the awareness that he is part of such a group already gives him the inner strength to deal with all the trials and difficulties.
This is still only what we ourselves are aware of – what we see with our own eyes. But in truth, there’s even more to the matter. There is a spiritual energy which assists those who serve Hashem together as a group. The Rebbe once remarked to Reb Lipa after he didn’t journey to him for a while: “I wonder how you can throw away such a caring and beloved group. If all this time you haven’t gone in the ways of Hashem properly, you’ve certainly lost out on what you’ve lost. And if you did serve Hashem properly, wouldn’t it have been better if you would have pooled all your devotions together with these beloved friends … others would have been able to achieve successes through your Avodah!”
Don’t wait around and anticipate a group of friends to organize themselves together with you. You don’t need to have an official group which makes up meeting times and resolutions, although of course it would be appropriate to do such a thing. The main thing is that you yourself should take the initiative, and start to believe in your friends – that they are Hashem’s children, and realize that each one certainly has within himself a unique good point which no one else does. You will be able to give everyone an authentic smile, and you won’t be embarrassed to speak with your friends about Avodas Hashem. With time, you will start to feel how your Avodas Hashem is full of life and joy.
How is it possible to come together with everyone when each person is attached to an outlook and path which is different from mine?
Of course, on one hand it’s very important that you remain strong in your own path, and not get confused by all the different outlooks. But still, if your intentions are for the sake of Heaven and to search for Hashem, you will then see that it’s possible to connect with anyone and that you are able to be greatly encouraged by everyone.
This is an important rule when friends are discussing Avodas Hashem together. The conversation must be with the aim to derive inspiration and motivation for Avodas Hashem from each other. The Yetzer Hara tries very hard to steer conversations around all sorts of minor details in Avodas Hashem on which there is debate and different views, or to elucidate different views in Chassidus, etc. Often, arguments spark from such types of conversations, as if the clarification which they are discussing is what will further motivate them in their Avodas Hashem. [It really is necessary to clarify every issue, but for such things it’s better to go to someone who knows and understands the subject well and not to attempt to clarify it through loud discussions between friends.] Reb Nosson’s warning to young people to keep away from arguments, is well known.
The conversation between friends should be in general to talk about Hashem’s Greatness, and His Compassion, and how it’s always possible to renew oneself in Avodas Hashem, and to strengthen oneself in Torah and Tefillah. It’s possible to have such conversations with any Jew if the intention is to truly hear the Word of Hashem. If you would hear that someone is standing in the street praising your father in front of a crowd, you would definitely go and join them to hear, without checking who’s speaking, even if he isn’t saying anything new.
We will end off with the words of Reb Nosson in Hilchos Berchas HaReiyah 5: A person must be bold as a leopard in Avodas Hashem, but he must still not dislike his friends just because they don’t act the same way as him, because perhaps he needs to go in the path which he chose for himself, for perhaps according to the root of his soul, this is the way he has to go.